How much respect is due to the office of Smearer in Chief? 


click to enlarge The irony of the "lock him up" chant was not lost on Nationals fans in D.C. - ANDREA HANKS , OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE  VIA FLICKR.COM
  • Andrea Hanks , Official White House via Flickr.com
  • The irony of the "lock him up" chant was not lost on Nationals fans in D.C.

I’m guessing that some of you out there in reader-land can remember all the way back to Oct. 27 when Donald Trump went to the World Series and came home with not-so-fond memories of loud booing from the crowd and accompanying chants of “lock him up.”

Never mind that it happened again this weekend at an Ultimate Fighting Championship event at Madison Square Garden in the president’s former hometown.

Some people, including some Democrats, were outraged by what they termed a lack of respect for the office of president, even if that lack of respect was directed toward someone who has spent his entire White House tenure disrespecting the office.

All I can say is that anyone offended by the spontaneous “lock him up” chant from thousands of baseball fans in a hyper-blue city must be suffering from a serious irony deficit. There would have been no “lock him up” chant without the preceding Trump-approved “lock her up” chant. This was not a call to put Trump behind bars. It was an opportunity for those in an unscreened crowd to render a judgment on the current office-holder. Everyone had to know that this would be the only possible reaction to a Trump appearance. The only surprise is that Trump didn’t later attest that the crowd was whimpering and crying.

I bring up this piece of now-ancient history only because of a certain Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the White House national security officer who was on the infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Zelensky in which Trump asked Zelensky as a “favor” to investigate the Bidens, father and son.

If you’re looking for outrage, I’ve got something for you. It’s the first round of smearing of a seemingly unimpeachable witness, who is, in fact, risking his career in testifying before the House impeachment inquiry. Vindman showed up for the deposition in Army dress blues.

If you’re looking for disrespect, check out Trump’s repeated tweets that Vindman is a never Trumper. This charge — that Vindman’s testimony is somehow politically biased against Trump — is based on, of course, nothing. Trump is suggesting that Vindman is a liar because — I don’t know — he was born in Ukraine?

Lock him up? Nah. It’s enough just to call him out, which is apparently what Vindman did in his testimony, telling the committee members that the reconstruction transcripts left out what The New York Times called “critical words and phrases.” You probably know much of the story by now. According to his opening statement, Vindman would testify he was so concerned by the quid pro quo call between Trump and Zelensky that he reported that concern to his White House superiors. In the statement, he also said he had confronted Gordon Sondland, the experience-free ambassador to the European Union who coincidentally contributed $1 million to the Trump inauguration committee. According to Vindman, Sondland had said in a July 10 meeting that a promised Zelensky visit to the White House depended on Ukraine investigating the Bidens and also the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, was behind the 2016 hacking incident.

Much to the White House’s chagrin, Vindman also reported this quid pro quo sample up the line. It may also be to Sondland’s chagrin since his testimony to the same committee seems to have differed in important respects.

Vindman’s testimony was a critical moment — firsthand testimony from a decorated Army veteran who has served both Democratic and Republican administrations and who is an expert on Ukraine. He was the fifth witness to have testified to the fact — we know it’s a fact from having read the transcript — of a quid pro quo.

It was so big that Vindman would almost immediately be attacked by Trump’s allies in the right-wing media as well as by Trump and, of course, by Rudy Giuliani, all basically questioning Vindman’s patriotism and/or honesty.

It began Monday night on the Laura Ingraham show, barely an hour after The New York Times first reported on Vindman’s opening statement. She noted that Vindman, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who fled with his family to the United States when he was 3, had said that Ukranian officials had asked him for advice about dealing with Giuliani, who seemed to be running foreign policy in Ukraine without any portfolio.

“Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House, apparently against the president’s interest,” Ingraham said. “Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?”

There is nothing in Vindman’s statement to suggest he was working against the president’s interest or the nation’s, as Ingraham said, in what would be the initiative smear. Guest John Yoo, the infamous torture justifier of the George W. Bush administration, replied, “I find that astounding. Some people might call that espionage.”

And off we go.

Meanwhile, on CNN, former Congressman Sean Duffy was also questioning the possibility of Vindman’s split loyalty. “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy,” Duffy said, again without a shred of evidence.

A few Republicans defended Vindman against these smears. Many more — like, say, a junior senator from Colorado, at least as of this writing — said nothing.

And while Trump was tweeting that Vindman was a never Trumper, Guiliani took it a step further, tweeting, in part:

“ANOTHER SCHIFFTY BACKFIRE: A US gov. employee who has reportedly been advising two gov’s?
“No wonder he is confused and feels pressure.”

I’ve got a feeling the pressure being felt is located in the White House. The House voted Oct. 31 to endorse the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into President Trump. There are no rules on how the House should run an impeachment. And there are no rules on timing.

There are no rules on smearing either, I guess, except, in this case, the certainty that the Trump-inspired smears against impeachment witnesses will last at least as long as the impeachment hearings.

This article first appeared in The Colorado Independent.

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